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Audiotape Calls for Abduction of Westerners

September 29, 2006|Solomon Moore | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — An audiotape allegedly from the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq urges followers to kidnap Westerners to barter for the release of a cleric imprisoned for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and encourages them to fight on despite the deaths of 4,000 fellow insurgents.

The taped message, posted Thursday on the Internet, says the hostages would be used to force the release of Omar Abdel Rahman, serving a life sentence for his involvement in the first bombing of the Trade Center.

The identity of the speaker, alleged to be Abu Ayyub Masri, also known as Sheik Abu Hamza or "Al Muhajir" to U.S. intelligence officials, could not be independently verified.

The speaker also calls on tribes that have turned against Al Qaeda to rejoin the movement. In translated excerpts provided by the SITE Institute, a privately funded group studying terrorism, the speaker urges Islamic scholars to support Al Qaeda and praises Sunni Arab tribes "who secretly and publicly supported us and provided us with the financing and the men."

After Abu Musab Zarqawi, Masri's predecessor, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June, and with the subsequent capture of several of his aides, officials said they had disrupted the group. A senior U.S. military official said Wednesday that several tribes in the western province of Al Anbar, a Sunni insurgent stronghold, had begun attacking Al Qaeda fighters.

The tape offers the first acknowledgment of the toll the conflict has had on Al Qaeda fighters. "We fear that our hard work will go to waste because the blood we shed in Iraq was too much -- over 4,000 foreign fighters and more than double this number in supporters of good and blessed causes," the speaker says.

The speaker also calls on Muslims with specialized skills to join Al Qaeda:

"My final message is to the people with special qualifications, the highly experienced, the scientists of chemistry and physics, electronics and management, media -- all the deep specialties -- in particular nuclear scientists and explosive engineering. We say that we badly need you. The jihad battlefield needs your scientific ambitions, and all of the American camps are the best experimental fields for your knowledge."

solomon.moore@latimes.com

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